Elections in Poland: Don't Mourn, Organise!

On 25 October 2015 parliamentary elections were held in Poland. The result was unsurprising – Law and Justice (PiS) will form the new government.

After 8 years of rule of the Civic Platform (PO) rule, it was clear that they were unable to go on any longer. The harbinger of what was to come was the presidential election earlier this year, in which PO's candidate, then-incumbent Bronisław Komorowski lost and PiS's candidate, Andrzej Duda, won. The arrogance of the ruling clique was best summed up by Komorowski himself, who explained his defeat by the fact that “demanding” youth does not appreciate their hard-won (by him, amongst others, of course) “freedom” and is afraid to take any risks. No, Mr. Komorowski, what you and other heroes of “the democratic opposition” served us post-1989 was not freedom, but new chains and servitude!

PO claims that 26 years of Polish “freedom” have been a success, especially under its rule. This is far from the truth. The Third Polish Republic has been in the vanguard of neo-liberal horrors since its inception, and during these 8 years, PO have implemented harsh austerity measures, such as the raising of VAT (for food, among other things) and raising the retirement age to 67 (which was previously 65 for men and 60 for women. It is also worth noting that one of the famous 21 demands of the Inter-factory Strike Committee in 1980 was a retirement age of 55 for men and 50 for women). Labour laws were further deregulated and now about 3 million people work under the so-called “trash contracts” (or without contracts at all), without job security, health insurance or paid vacation time. In 2013 the government practically did away with the 8-hour working day. Many “unprofitable” hospitals were privatised, along with publicly owned industries, which were also liquidated (in January this year a strike of miners in Silesia postponed the closing of the mines and layoffs). Many schools were closed and the education budget was cut. Further cuts and privatisation also struck the public transportation system, primarily railways, which were already in a pitiful state. PO-PSL government was also responsible for layoffs in the public sector, frozen wages and pensions, and was opposed to the idea of raising the tax-free allowance. Youth unemployment stands at 25%, 1.4 million out of 8.9 million of Poland's children and young people under 24 are growing up in poverty, wages are among the lowest in European Union (the median gross monthly salary is calculated at 3942 złoty, or 939 euro, but in reality 80 % of the population earns less than that), one in five retirees live in extreme poverty.

The first sign of troubles for the ruling coalition was the wire-tapping scandal of 2014 in which it was revealed that someone had illegally recorded the private conversations between politicians in a restaurant and in the villa of former PM Donald Tusk. The most famous were excerpts from conversations between former foreign minister Radosław Sikorski and former finance minister Jan Vincent Rostowski, published by journal Wprost – vulgar and disparaging comments about the alliance with the United States (Sikorski described it as “giving them a blowjob” and said that this alliance is not only worthless, but harmful, since it creates a false sense of security) and various European heads of state, such as David Cameron. At the time it had little political consequence, but in 2015 new revelations about this affair (for example that the recently deceased Jan Kulczyk, the wealthiest man in Poland, asked Tusk for the help of Polish counter-intelligence in his business operations in Ukraine) led to a cabinet reshuffle. Sikorski resigned from the post of president of Parliament, as did the Ministers of Sport, Privatisation and Health and several state secretaries.

Austerity, growing inequality, chronic unemployment, political scandal – no wonder PO wasn't able to secure victory this time. All they had to offer was that they were not like these crazies from PiS – indeed in this electoral campaign PM Ewa Kopacz still had the audacity to urge people to vote PO as voting for lesser parties would facilitate PiS's victory. People suddenly opted for the devil they supposedly kept at bay for 8 years. PiS is a national conservative Catholic party. Its leader is Jarosław Kaczyński, twin brother of former Polish President Lech Kaczyński who died in the Smolensk plane crash in 2010. Kaczyński is a populist who exploits workers' anger at the PO-led ruling elite. He directs that discontent into, of course, very reactionary channels. In the run-up to the elections Kaczyński was one of the politicians who participated in a racist anti-immigrant crusade (he went as far as to claim that immigrants/refugees will bring disease and parasites with them, which reminds us of Nazi propaganda about Jews). PiS promises for example increased benefits for children (“500 złoty for every child”) and free medications for the elderly, and talks about the need for dialogue between the government and trade unions (that's perhaps because they want to gain the unions' acquiescence in pushing through more austerity measures!). But as experience teaches us, once in power, PiS will forget about all that social demagogy and will focus on building an authoritarian regime, being fans of Marshal Józef Piłsudski, the Polish dictator who, between 1926 and 1935 repressed communists, workers, peasants and national minorities. When it was in power in 2005-07, PiS lowered taxes for the rich, continued austerity measures, sent police against protesting nurses, called for the introduction of the death penalty, assaulted already very limited abortion rights for women and introduced a Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, which spied on institutions and individuals and was responsible for many false accusations.

The victory of PiS is another symptom of the growth of political and social reaction in Poland. We can say about “our” country the same that Marx wrote about Germany in 1840s:

“..we have shared the restorations of modern nations without ever having shared their revolutions. … With our shepherds at our head, we continually found ourselves in the company of freedom – on the day of its burial.” Introduction to Towards a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1844)

The elections were dominated by right-wing parties. Eccentric politican and European MP Janusz Korwin-Mikke (whose views are a strange mix of economic liberalism and social conservatism, with a penchant for despotism thrown in for good measure – whilst claiming to be a lover of freedom) is very popular among the youth, though he can't even enter the parliament because most of his supporters are underage. His party warned about “hordes of illegal immigrants” that are storming Europe (though not so long ago Korwin-Mikke himself said he prefers the Muslim world to today’s “decadent”, “leftist” Europe and postulated alliance with Islamic fundamentalism against the left). On the other hand, candidates from the election list of Paweł Kukiz, rock musician and “anti-establishment” “hero” (who scored some 20% in presidential elections) got into the parliament. Among them are some ultra-nationalists from the National Movement – such company is unsurprising, given that Kukiz believes that the allocation of few thousand refugees to Poland is part of a conspiracy to weaken and divide the nation. If they will be persuaded to support PiS government, it will be interesting to see what happens when on 11 November Winnicki's praetorian guard of football hooligans will be again trashing Warsaw during the Independence March [1], and police will be led by Winnicki's colleague from government. Infighting on the right might be the only good thing to come out of this.

The future is gloomy. But things have been gloomy in Poland from time immemorial. We should not mourn the PO, nor think that sort of anti-PiS popular front (which Barbara Nowacka from the United Left coallition said would be the best possible outcome of the elections) would be better. We have already listed their “achievements”. Some will say that PiS will create a religious state – but PO was also servile towards the Catholic Church, subsidising it heavily when in power. Under PO you could still get sued for “offending religious feelings”. PiS will force poor or raped women or girls under the age of consent to give birth? Well, under the PO the number of legal abortions was already low. The ugly truth will just resurface. Both parties are conservative and right-wing. Both parties are parties of war, supporting the “Maidan revolution” and engaging in sabre-rattling against Russia over Ukraine, talking about the need to increase military spending while saying there's no money for, say, carers for disabled persons (though they differ in that PO wants to bring Poland's policies in line with dictates of Brussels and Berlin, while PiS wants to become more independent of them and strengthen ties with the USA).

Some will lament the fact that now we have a parliament without the left. Indeed, the social-democratic Alliance of Democratic Left (SLD) lost the elections, partly because it ran in coalition with other leftist parties (Your Movement, Greens, Union of Labour and Polish Socialist Party), and coalitions have to have a higher score than individual parties in order to get into the parliament, and partly because a new political party Razem (“Together”) took away from them a significant part of the leftist vote. But the same SLD when it was in power attacked the working class just like PO and PiS (for example paving the way for “trash contracts”), lowered taxes for the business, participated in the imperialist adventure in Iraq, allowed the torturing of people in secret CIA prisons and appeased the Church. We can do without such a left in parliament! We can only be happy about the political death of Leszek Miller [2] and other cynics. Besides, what would any worthwhile left do in parliament? We communists could go there to dispel illusions workers have in the system, but many people in Poland are already seeing through the democratic lie or rather never bought into it during these last 26 years – only 51% of people eligible to vote bothered going. But they have no class consciousness, don't know the alternative, and we should be organising them instead. Real power does not lie in parliament.

What about the stars of these elections, Razem? They caused quite a stir, by gaining enough votes to get state subsidies, and horrified right-wingers called them “radical leftists” and “communists”, pointing to the old photo of one of their members, Adrian Zandberg, with a Karl Marx t-shirt (Kukiz said that for him it is the same as wearing a Hitler t-shirt and that for him Zandberg is a “threat to democracy” – so says he who advocates single-member constituencies and wears t-shirts with fascist bandits from the National Armed Forces!) In fact this proves only how the political discourse has shifted to the right here, because they're a petty-bourgeois, clearly anti-communist (they want “no post-communist remnants” – they say this about the ex-Stalinists from SLD who are not genuine communists, but since they're using terms like that it is clear that for them there's no difference) party whose program is classical social democracy. They model themselves after SYRIZA and Podemos. All they want is the welfare state, a higher minimum wage, and that capitalists pay their taxes in Poland. Razem's slogan is “Another politics is possible”. Is it? Not within the framework of the capitalist system. Austerity, anti-social legislation is not a result of the conspiracy of neoliberals and greedy bankers, but is necessitated by capital accumulation. Capitalism in crisis is more willing to commit crimes (no matter how great) than to concede anything to the working class, as the capitulation of SYRIZA in Greece shows.

We need to revive class struggle in streets and in workplaces, and build our own revolutionary party, that will show the way out of the misery of life under capitalism, out of exploitation, war, oppression and religious backwardness. To the rise of political and social reaction we should counterpose an united class-specific front from below. There is a lot to be done, as many workers have internalised neo-liberal narratives, are demoralised and unable to fight back, and are hostile to communism or even any form of leftism. But if revolution was possible in Tsarist Russia, which was considered a European bastion of reaction, with its absolute monarchy, with its pogroms and Black Hundred terror, then it is possible here in this modern European bastion of reaction too.

Antoni Lulek

Footnotes

[1] Poland’s Independence Day is November 11th, the day Pilsudski was given power in 1918. In the last few years right wing nationalist groupings have turned the march into riots. Robert Winnicki is an ultra-nationalist, leader of the National Movement, honorary president of the All-Polish Youth and one of the organisers of the Independence March. The All-Polish Youth specialises in attacking gays or the supporters of gay rights. One of their slogans was “gas the gays”. All the nationalist groups are pro-Catholic, racist and anti-immigrant as their recent attack on falafel bar in Warsaw demonstrates.

[2] Former SLD Prime Minister.

Saturday, October 31, 2015